Referendum Looms

Why Britain Needs to Stay in the E.U. Cockpit

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Fears mount about what leaving the European Union would mean for Britain.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Ahead of Thursday’s referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a part of the European Union, many business leaders have weighed into the historic debate.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Donald Bryson argues that it is vital that the United Kingdom retains the ability to influence the evolution of Europe.
    • He said it is especially important to retain a single market for goods and services, given that Britain is an exporter of financial services.
    • Leaving the European Union would take its toll on London as a financial hub, he said, adding that big firms are considering relocating to Paris or Frankfurt.
  • Audio

    Audio

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I was born as the Second World War ended so I could not reasonably have expected, that over seventy years later, young Britons would view the beaches and great cities of Europe as holiday or work destinations. Nor did I imagine that German, French and English would be openly spoken in cafes and bars amongst colleagues and friends without fear.

No longer do we kill each other with muskets and sabres or tanks and bombers. Instead, and almost always imperfectly, we struggle in the conference rooms of Brussels and Strasbourg with paper (lots of paper), pens and computers to fashion a Europe that will continue to ensure peace and improve the wellbeing of its citizens. I have participated in such meetings, and progress can sometimes only painfully be achieved.

Some speak today as though the European Union is a finished project, but it is far from being so.

The Europe that is being built in this way will at times seem to be making the progress of M. Hulot – three steps forward and one back – but is that not much better than the alternative of bloody warfare?

Some speak today as though the European Union is a finished project, but it is far from being so.

Anyone reading the history of recent centuries will know that national, or as in Germany and Italy, regional, loyalties and characteristics remain very strong and that there will always be a struggle for influence. However imperfect, I prefer that struggle to be conducted by people who meet each other and argue rather than fight.

I cannot conceive of Britain not having the opportunity to influence the evolution of Europe. We should be influencing, as far as we are able, the process and substance of decision taking to reflect the best characteristics of the people who make up Europe.

We should be arguing for a Europe that resembles a Venn Diagram where, some areas overlap, for example, the pooling of currencies, common immigration or taxation policies, but some do not overlap where individual countries retain their own arrangements.

I hope overlap would continue in developing a true single market for goods and services, which is particularly important for Britain as an exporter of financial services – an area of activity that would be particularly damaged by a decision to leave the European Union.

One size will never fit all, but there are substantial areas where pooling of interests can make us all stronger, safer and more prosperous. With this geometry there would be room to accommodate many differences between nations and make easier further accession.

I want this to be a compassionate Europe where we can be proud to support its values of tolerance and understanding, the celebration of differences and the creation of opportunity. Can anyone doubt that Britain has the capacity to be a major influence for the realisation of such a vision?

I want my grandchildren to grow to be outward looking, cooperative and yet proud of their heritage. I do not believe that they would be better citizens by turning inwards, defining themselves as not European, and focused only on their own selfish interests. I want them to share a positive vision of how Europe can act as a strong influence in the world between the other major and emerging powers.

I also want them to have better economic prospects and to have the opportunity to participate in open liberalised markets where entrepreneurship is valued and wealth creation celebrated and where they can freely experience other cultures. I want my grandchildren to understand the benefits of healthy competition and freedom to make economic choices.

This is not about whether Britain’s economy will grow by half a per cent or one or two percent less if we leave the European Union, important though that is.

I have no doubt growth would be slower, employment damaged and our currency weaker if Britain were to leave, but it is the risk of protectionism and narrow nationalism which is more serious than short term changes in growth rates.

Driving division in an already dangerous world is unlikely to improve our safety.

I am also clear that in the European divorce proposed by some, however optimistically the process of leaving were to begin, the rest of Europe would be obliged to seek recompense for the damage – political and economic – we would have done. Local electorates will demand nothing less. Driving division in an already dangerous world is unlikely to improve our safety.

Vague concepts of sovereignty do not create jobs, encourage enterprise or develop new markets. Perhaps it meant something more to those living centuries ago when monarchs were backed by a preparedness to resort quickly to force of arms. In today’s interconnected, information-flowing world it is a far less meaningful concept.

After the Referendum is over, and I believe and hope Britain will decide to remain a member of the European Union, it is important that the peace is won too.

This will need a resetting of Britain’s relationship with our neighbours and the articulation of a positive vision for a new and more responsive Europe that recognises the anxieties of its citizens and provides leadership through consent.

It also needs, through projects such as the Capital Markets Union, to help create the small enterprises that will drive growth. We are today still in the early chapters of this stage of Europe’s evolution and they are far from perfectly formed. Although there will be setbacks we should continue to want to influence the writing of the next chapters.

After the Second World War the business vote was abolished for most of the UK. As a consequence I am not in favour of businesses (or indeed their leaders) telling the electorate how to vote now or in General Elections.

I am startled, however, by how many people want to know my views given my experience as Chairman of the London Stock Exchange Group, Sage Group, the Medical Research Council and LifeSight Ltd and previously of Smiths Group, Amersham, London Metal Exchange, Royal Mail and TNS.

For none of these, can I find evidence that they would perform better if Britain left the European Union or, as some suggest, the European Single Market. This is not just a calibration in terms of profit but in terms of employment as well.

So I am writing this to you, as my UK colleagues in the organisations for which I have responsibility, in the hope that you may find my views helpful as you ponder the future. No one else has asked me to do this and I understand I am but one voice and, like all of you, have one vote.

 

To contact the author: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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